Continental Restaurant and Lounge (Rt 1, Saugus)
After a few years of looking for dated, old style American-Italian north of Boston in a non-tourist, with original decor and original clientele, I think I've found it.
I was driving along Rt 1 in Saugus and saw the "Continental," with its rambling 60s-est stone exterior, heavy wooden front doors, minimal windows (stained glass ones at that!), and big-haired women 60+ with their husbands.
The intuition me and my friend had was right on. The main dining room and side room are dimly lit, were packed on a Friday night. The hostess scowled at us as if to say, "aren't you in the wrong place?" We didn't get to sit in the main room, which had dark, heart-shaped buttoned booths and amazing atmosphere.
Food was OK--but I wouldn't be quick to judge. I ordered the Boston cut sirloin, which was a lean cut and thus had a "burned" tasting crust akin to what the NYC Palm can have when there isn't too much fat on whatever their standard cut is (I've forgotten).
The trouble is, I like a nice even layer of fat all around my steaks, for flavor. A small bowl of white-sauced bean salad was served. Complimentary salad was reminiscent of family restaurants--not a hallmark of the "fine" but of the homey--though they did have minced pickled peppers on top, which gave the salad what it needed.
We had a half-bottle of a Pauillac for $20, a feat if you are used to dining in NYC. The most expensive bottle is $47, the cheapest $19. The sommelier was jovial, and wore something around his neck that looked like it should be used to hold a bottle of wine. I don't know what is was. Wine was on a separate bill from dinner! Any idea why?
But we weren't there for the food, nor the wine. We were there for the atmo and the clientele. Think early sixties, electric candles on the wall, mottled red rug, just like a funeral parlor. Ditto with the general population. But that's what we LIKE it. Because there are no hipsters there (which is why we got such bad reception from the hostess and from one waitress, though our own waitress was friendly).
If only we had dressed up! And if only I knew better what to order!
Has anyone else been there?
I know a lot of people find the Continental "dated" but we have always enjoyed it there. I think the food is good and the atmosphere is funny. Plus, I love those appetizers that they bring around. Unfortunately, I tend to fill up on them. Check out the early bird specials too. They have them all week long. If you like the Continental, also check out Angelica's on Rt. 114 in Danvers. It is owned by the same family.
I have always wondered about that place! I have seen it many times driving up and down Rte 1 and kept it at the back of my mind as a possible discovery. That's funny you should say that you've been looking for a '60s old-style Italian place, because we also look for those type of places (brings back memories of my 1970s childhood!). If you're interested, I have a couple other suggestions for you: Dino's in Worcester, MA (far friendlier than the Continental seems to be, but old style food and atmosphere in the dining room - the bar, sadly, is new); Monty's Garden in Leominster (REAL old style - big, high wooden booths with the original porcelain coat pegs on the ends, '60s style shag carpeting; two kinds of TRIPE on the menu and all pasta is made fresh). I think I'll plan a trip up to the Continental one Saturday night soon!
Tripe on the menu sounds like an amazingly well preserved place!
Don't worry, the Continental should be very friendly, but my friend and I were dressed like, and looked like, college-aged beer-drinking ragamuffins. I didn't know I'd be going there (we were headed to the clam box in Ipswich before making our excellent discovery). I'll dress more appropriately next time. Standard dress for men was Italian-American style with polo shirts.
And by the way, the sommelier was wearing a sommelier's chain and key, which I only found out yesterday is like a certification, and only would only be worn at a classy place. Continental fits the 60s classiness. Try it!
On the menu, use you best intuition about what's old and what's pandering to new tastes. And please report back what you find.
Looking around the room, there was a heavy emphasis on lobster, steakhouse style (huge claws, etc.). Perhaps they have something like Lobster Thermador a la Locke-Ober's Lobster Savannah.
They serve popovers with the meal--a New England touch. they were good popovers because they were extremely fresh and still *hot* when we got served.
Also, they may have a really good veal chop or pork chop--but I don't know. I'd be really curious if they had a grilled veal chop. Also, I'd be curious if they had any off-menu items that might be good.